Health

Columbia creates Jennifer Schlecht Memorial Scholarship to support careers in sexual and reproductive health


The Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health (HDPFH) at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health announced today the creation of the Jennifer Schlecht Memorial Scholarship for Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Justice in Fragile Settings which will be awarded annually as part of the Jennifer Schlecht Memorial Fund, hosted by Family Planning 2030 (FP2030) at the United Nations Foundation. The Scholarship’s mission is to honor Jennifer’s memory and her professional accomplishments by creating a group of highly trained, passionate public health leaders, who are bound together by a shared opportunity and commitment to championing the field of SRH justice.

The Scholarship, which will commence in 2022, will provide travel stipends to select students pursuing SRH field experience in fragile settings. The Memorial Fund will provide the generous gift to HDPFH, which will administer the Scholarship each year. The Memorial Fund was created by the family of Jennifer Schlecht, a beloved friend, colleague, and alumnus of HDPFH, from which she graduated in 2004.

Jennifer received a dual MPH-MSW degree while studying at the Columbia Mailman School and was the recipient of a Wyman scholarship in recognition of her exceptional academic merit. Jennifer was dedicated to upholding the rights of women and girls in crisis situations, and the Scholarship will allow students to experience the type of professional and research opportunities that shaped Jenn’s passion and life’s work.

“Jenn believed her experience living and working in local communities and the relationships she developed during her field work enriched her professional experience. She would be so pleased that this scholarship will enable MPH students to have the opportunity to gain field experience,” said HDPFH assistant professor Sara Casey, a friend and colleague of Jennifer.

Jennifer conducted research and supported initiatives within HDPFH for years, working closely with faculty and staff in the Program on Forced Migration and Health, as well as with Dr. Casey and others as a member of the Reproductive Health Access, Information and Services in Emergencies Initiative (RAISE) team. There she supported efforts in northern Uganda, Darfur, and South Sudan to provide displaced populations with excellent SRH services, as well as co-authored several publications, including with Assistant Professor Casey and RAISE founding Director Professor Emerita Therese McGinn.

“For 15 years, Jenn devoted her life and career to helping women and girls affected by war and natural disaster; her impact on sexual and reproductive health justice was enormous,” said HDPFH Professor and Department Chair Terry McGovern. “She embodied all that we hope for in our graduates: courage, compassion, and brilliance. We are honored to support a scholarship in her memory, within a department shaped by her efforts.”

In addition to her work with HDPFH, Jennifer was also a Senior Advisor on Emergency Preparedness and Response for FP2020, a global partnership within the United Nations Foundation that accelerates rights-based family planning use by leveraging the investments of governments, civil society, youth and donors. In this role, Jennifer focused on building bridges between humanitarian and development efforts and on integrating SRH services into national disaster preparedness planning. FP2020 has expanded into the newly branded partnership FP2030 and gifted the Jennifer Schlecht Memorial Fund to HDPFH.

Jennifer was also a member of the Women’s Refugee Commission team for eight years, where she advocated for and conducted research on family planning access, adolescent reproductive health, and child marriage.

The launch of the Scholarship coincides with Jennifer’s birthday, in celebration of her life and of the lasting impact she had on the lives of women and girls globally.

The Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health (HDPFH) addresses a wide range of challenges to health, focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights, forced migration, gender justice, child and adolescent health, environmental justice, and complex health systems. HPDFH works to affirm that health is a basic human right by utilizing varied interdisciplinary scientific and technological approaches and a justice framework to understand factors undermining health and wellbeing to shift policy and practice. Combining knowledge of the impact of law and global governance on public health at the local level with complex health systems analysis and implementation science, HDPFH prevents and addresses public health threats in low-income, unstable, and inequitable environments globally.

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